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Why Fire Safety Should be the Next Big Wellness Craze

"Nothing is better for your health and well-being than checking your smoke alarms and making and practicing your home escape plan. And it’s a free family activity"

Why Fire Safety Should be the Next Big Wellness Craze

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You’re in bed sleeping when you’re jolted awake by the blaring beeps of the smoke alarm. You smell smoke. Your mind starts racing. You hear your kids crying out for you from their bedrooms down the hall. What do you do?

Real talk – I hadn’t thought about fire safety before I joined the fire service. It was not on my radar as a young woman, pre-kids, focused on building my career, a long-term relationship and credit score. Fast forward to today and fully entrenched into middle age, a 10-year veteran Fire and Life Safety Educator with Toronto Fire Services and a married mother of 4 kids under 7 - I’ve grown up some.

Fire and Life Safety Educator Josephine Park and her family works on their home escape plan together. Fire and Life Safety Educator Josephine Park and her family works on their home escape plan together. Courtesy Josephine Park.

Why practicing home fire safety is so important

As a professional in the fire service industry, I’ve seen time and time again how a tiny fire can engulf a home in mere minutes or less. I’ve seen how working smoke alarms and practicing home escape planning saves lives. As a mom, I’m no stranger to the anxiety, fears and utter exhaustion that can come with parenting little people.

Parenting can be tough, but I want to share something that may help. I genuinely believe that fire safety can be a practice or form of self-care, like yoga or meditation, to increase well-being, foster family cohesion, help promote better sleep and ultimately lead to better outcomes for the whole family.

Home is where we should feel most safe. Most of us avoid imagining nightmarish fire scenarios, much less plan for them. A recent list by the Angus Reid Institute about “What Scares People in Canada the Most” listed “fires/accidents” ranked near the bottom at 24th – ahead of bugs, snakes, spiders, heights and “nothing” (must be nice). Could the idea of a fire happening to us be too abstract or frightening to think about, so we put it on the mental backburner?

And yet there’s no hiding from the reality. Local news often includes reports of devastating and all too often fatal home fires. Even for those who survive, there is no escaping the psychological, physical and financial suffering of such a tragic event. Nobody disputes the incredible trauma and pain a burn survivor will experience, possibly for the rest of their lives.

Firefighter Sid Zigah and his family and their manufacturer-approved charging station on the ground floor of their home for safe charging of their phones. Firefighter Sid Zigah and his family and their manufacturer-approved charging station on the ground floor of their home for safe charging of their phones. Courtesy Sid Zigah

Fires today are more toxic and deadlier than they used to be

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Over the past many decades, thanks to better public education about fire safety (most of us now know better than to leave candles unattended and are mindful to dispose of smoking materials safely) and more advanced fire protection systems (hooray for sprinklers, 10-year smoke alarms and alarm monitoring), we have access to more information and fire safety tools than ever before. Unfortunately, despite all of this, far too many people are injured or worse in residential fires. In my city, the leading causes of residential fires are unattended cooking and careless smoking, and both are within our control to prevent.

Fires today are more toxic and deadlier than they used to be. They’re burning faster and hotter than they ever did before. Our homes are built differently, and we’re filling them with furniture and other stuff that looks nice but is far more toxic when it burns. That means in the case of a fire in your home, you and your family only have a minute or two to get everybody out before the fire rages out of control.

So why aren’t we all fire safety experts who march our families through the paces of emergency planning and run regular home fire drills? After all, the kids are already used to fire drills at school; what’s holding us back at home?

Here’s the problem: We tend to put off things that feel scary or stressful. Thinking about such things can cause anxiety as it activates the area associated with pain in the brain. Your brain looks for a way to stop that negative feeling by switching your attention to something else that is more pleasant. However, researchers discovered that neuro-discomfort dissipated not long after people started working on what was unpleasant to them.

Firefighter Jordan Muszynski’s kids understand that smoke alarms and CO detectors protect them 24/7. Firefighter Jordan Muszynski’s kids understand that smoke alarms and CO detectors protect them 24/7. Courtesy Jordan Muszynski

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What do I want you to take away from all this? How important it is to practice fire safety. Check and test those smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms with your kids. Create a home escape plan and involve the whole family. Get the timer out, practice the home escape plan twice a year, and try to beat your previous time. Your kids will feel good about helping keep the family safe, and you’ll feel good to know that fire safety is a life skill that your kids will always have. It’s a win-win.

“As a mother of two, protecting what matters most is crucial. There’s no way I would put my family in harm’s way. If my front door’s lock is broken, I am risking my family’s safety.  I wouldn't just cross my fingers and hope for the best; I'd fix it pronto! The same goes for fire safety. Don't wait for a fire to strike; test your smoke alarms monthly, and establish and practice a home escape plan. Let's pledge to keep our families fire safe - it's personal!” 

-Aman Kainth, Sr. Manager, Public Education & Communications, Office of the Fire Marshal (Province of Ontario)

Fire and Life Safety Educator Josephine Park checks smoke alarms with her kids. Fire and Life Safety Educator Josephine Park checks smoke alarms with her kids. Courtesy Josephine Park.

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Author:

Josephine is a mom of 4 young kids (including identical twins), a wife, and an Acting Captain and Fire and Life Safety Educator with Toronto Fire Services.

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Josephine is a mom of 4 young kids (including identical twins), a wife, and an Acting Captain and Fire and Life Safety Educator with Toronto Fire Services, so she’s busy most of the time (busy is the code word for utterly exhausted). But thank goodness, she finds her work in the fire service energizing, and her perma-tension headache magically disappears when she’s engaging with and helping the good people of Toronto be safer from fires. 

Amidst the sometimes chaos at home, she finds solace in knowing that her husband always has her back, that not long from now, all the kids will be in school (whoo-hoo!) and that everybody in her family knows what to do if the smoke alarm starts sounding in the middle of the night (and would love for all of you to know what to do too).

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